Teaching our kids healthy habits--this is something that is has been on my mind (and my husband's) more and more over the past year for various reasons. I guess it's one of the side affects of getting older, and being "older" parents ourselves. It's more than making sure our kids don't become overweight when they are young--it's also about teaching them healthy habits that will hopefully continue with them as they go into adulthood.
And we've found this to be very challenging. In part, because in today's world there are some mixed messages on what's considered "healthy". There are the USDA's recommendations (which is now a plate instead of a pyramid), which promotes many fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Then there are the books/experts which recommend no carbs (including limiting carbs from fruits and vegetables), gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, etc. At school, we are told to send our kids with a "healthy" snack. But what does that mean? Low in calories? Low in sugar content? Some nutritional value? Everyone has a different opinion on what's best for our health.
The other tricky part with teaching kids healthy habits is that if we are too strict, they might rebel or go to the other extreme when they get their freedom.
Some of you who have known me for a long time might be surprised that this topic is front of mind for me. I was overweight in elementary school, so I know what that's like, and throughout my adult life I've gone through various stages of being healthy and unhealthy and everywhere in between.
That said, here are the things we are doing at home to promote healthy (in our opinion) habits with our kids:
1. Eat fruits and vegetables every day. We offer these to our kids as part of meals and snacks. All of my kids love fruit, 2 out of 3 of my kids will eat at least some vegetables.
2. Be mindful of what we drink. We serve juice only for breakfast (and we water it down partially) and milk for lunch and dinner. We encourage water with snacks and we don't drink soda, not even diet soda. Now I won't freak out if my kids go to a birthday party and drink soda, but I just think it's completely unnecessary. So many chemicals and artificial everything in soda, I know for me I felt completely better when I gave it up. (Although I do occasionally miss drinking diet coke with chips & salsa--for some reason that is the best combo!)
3. Reduce or eliminate after-dinner snacking. I think our kids were getting used to asking for a bed-time snack just as an excuse to delay getting in bed. So in the past several months, we have discouraged these later snacks and if they are really hungry we let them eat a piece of cheese (it's quick, not messy, and has protein). As adults, it's so easy to get into the habit of snacking at night, sitting in front of the TV mindlessly chomping away. This has been a hard habit for my husband and I to completely eliminate.
4. Everything in moderation. For us this doesn't mean eliminating desserts or carbs completely, but it does mean that we offer our kids something to eat from all of the food groups. When my kids ask for an afternoon snack, I'll let them have a cookie or a granola bar if that's what they request. Then if they ask for seconds, I'll ask them if they are still hungry, and if they are I'll give them cheese or yogurt to get them some protein. We do the same process with dessert (which we don't have all the time).
5. Minimize going out to eat. We originally cut back on going out to eat for budgetary reasons, but the health reasons of eating at home are also important. Even though there are healthy choices at most restaurants, it's more tempting for us to eat unhealthy when we are out. As the kids get older, I'd like to teach them how to cook, so that when they live on their own, maybe they won't be as tempted to go out to eat all the time.
6. Play outside. Sometimes it's hard to drag the kids outside, but once they are out they never regret it. Riding bikes, riding scooters, playing soccer, swimming, running around at the splash park, playing at the playground...it's all good exercise.
7. Teach them about why exercise and nutrition are important. I don't want to just say "no" to certain food choices, I want to tell my kids why something else is a better choice. We've had many discussions with our oldest son about protein and how it helps build muscle. And he still sometimes asks why we have to walk to school instead of driving like everyone else, and I still keep explaining it to him. The other day my son asked me, "Mommy, why don't you ever eat any candy?" (He's offered me some of his Halloween and Christmas candy, and I've politely declined). So I explained to him about how I'm trying to lose weight, so I can't eat the extra calories, but it's fine for him to have some in moderation.
In this past year, my husband and I have tried to set a good example for our kids to follow in regards to exercise and nutrition. And we're not perfect. Maybe by seeing my husband cycle, and by seeing me running, they will be inspired to try road racing or running someday. Or maybe they'll find something else that's active that they enjoy doing.
Where do you stand on this subject? Should parents or schools be doing more to promote healthy habits with kids? What do you think is "healthy"? I'd love to hear your thoughts.